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Handle with care

Higher demand pushed wine prices up five per cent this year

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Handle with care

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese buyers’ new-found love for fine wine is sending prices of red and white vintages skyrocketing. Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction, for example, sold $51.4 million worth of wine this year, a fourfold increase on 2009. Overall, higher demand pushed wine prices up five per cent this year—a steeper rise than either oil or gold prices. And French producers have been first in reaping that bonanza thanks to some savvy gambits.

Château Lafite Rothschild, for example, has boosted already strong Asian sales by adding the lucky Chinese character for the number eight on its vintage 2008 bottles. Most recently, though, wealthy Chinese and Taiwanese wine lovers have been snapping up wine bottles equipped with radio ID tags that can reveal whether the wine has been subjected to excessively hot or cold temperatures during storage and shipping. Behind the initiative, dubbed “Five-Star Provenance,” is Bordeaux Winebank CEO Henning Thoresen, who believes the tags explain why over 94 per cent of his wines sold well above pre-sale estimates (and for as much as $72,600 a case) at Sotheby’s latest New York auction. Asia’s deep pockets, it seems, like their fine wine with smart gadgets.